The eyes of the sporting world were momentarily diverted from Brazil last week as the biggest cycling competition on the planet, the Tour de France, set off from Leeds and snaked through the glorious surrounding countryside.
As a Yorkshireman I shared the enormous sense of pride at the atmosphere being created by the huge crowds lining the route.
It also struck me that bringing France to the UK for a few days neatly encapsulated the close ties between the two countries. And while Le Tour may now be back on French soil, the opportunities it presents Yorkshire are only just beginning.
Nowhere are the ties between the two countries more evident than in the industry my organisation represents: financial and related professional services.
The latest figures available show that UK financial services imports from France totalled just over £1bn in 2012.
In the same year, the industry’s exports to France totalled more than £3bn, making it the fourth biggest destination for UK financial services exports worldwide.
There are plenty of customers in both countries using each other’s banks as well.
In the first quarter of this year, UK banks had $475bn in outstanding loans provided to French customers while French banks had $286bn in outstanding loans to UK customers. There are also around a quarter of a million French people living in London, making London France’s sixth biggest city. The UK and France are committed to working together to improve the policy environment for financial services, for the benefit of both countries and the whole of Europe.
For instance, the Anglo-French Committee brings the two countries’ business leaders together and has been contributing to the debate on Europe’s priorities, providing evidence on the importance of the financial sector in driving jobs and growth across the continent. The mutually beneficial relationship between the UK and France is a strong one. So how can Yorkshire benefit? For me, the Tour has presented the region with a once in a lifetime opportunity to capitalise on the overwhelmingly positive reaction to its hosting of the race.
There are three ways it can do this.
Firstly, Yorkshire should use the halo effect of the Tour to attract French foreign direct investment. We know that the UK attracts more FDI than any other EU state, and the financial and related professional services industry attracts more FDI than any other sector.
There’s an opportunity for Yorkshire to claim a significant slab of a very large pie.
Businesses and local leaders need to work together to make this a reality.
Secondly, the region should look to increase the levels of ‘north shoring’, as more and more firms look to expand operations outside London. The capital is a significant draw for overseas organisations, but what we’re seeing across the UK is those firms are also heading to the regions, where costs are often lower, to set up regional headquarters and back office functions.
Thirdly, Yorkshire should promote its universities. These are leading examples of research and teaching excellence, providing the skilled workforce that businesses need to grow – not least in business education, as many with established careers in financial and related professional services go back to university to further their understanding of the discipline.